Rapid Employment and Development Initiative (READI) – Chicago

An 18-month paid program providing mental health services and professional development, employing men who are most vulnerable to experience gun violence in South Side and West Chicago (1).


United States

Dates of operation

2017 - present (5)

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Based on evidence that combining cognitive behavioral interventions and access to economic mobility can help individuals stay safer, nonprofit Heartland Alliance works to increase safety by addressing trauma and increasing economic opportunity in Chicago communities. Heartland Alliance works through community-based organizations to directly engage men at the highest risk of experiencing violence, and connects them with mental health supports, paid transitional jobs and professional development, and support services (2).

Defining principles

READI provides decent, stipended employment for carceral system-impacted individuals. The program offers paid professional development and free therapy to all of its participants.


READI was designed in response to an unprecedented 60 percent spike in Chicago’s homicide rate from 2015 to 2016 (Kapustin et al., 2017). “We need solutions that reduce surging gun violence without exacerbating the harms of the criminal legal system. This effort includes finding ways to effectively support the adult men at the highest risk of shooting or being shot,” (3). “The job was designed to provide several elements: a stable source of income to deter illegal work, an incentive to participate in the therapy, a place to build and reinforce new skills and norms, and a reason to spend less time in dangerous settings,” (4).

Number of participants

1,000 people have the opportunity to participate (6).

Criteria for participation

Program recruitment targets low-income individuals who are formerly incarcerated, at-risk of being arrested or being involved with criminal activity, and live in areas with high prevalence of gun violence.

Person-days of employment

18-month subsidized, supported job and cognitive-behavioral programming (7).

Pay and benefits

“Participants in the first stage received a minimum hourly wage, initially $11 but rising during the course of the study to match changes in the local minimum wage. Advancing to each stage was accompanied by a wage increase, among other benefits,” (8).


$9.5M paid to participants, $20M invested in community organizations. Funders: Paul M. Angell Family Foundation, AT&T Foundation, The Boeing Company, The Chicago Community Trust, Chicago Sports Alliance, a McCormick Foundation Fund, The Crown Family, Frechette Family Foundation, Lloyd A. Fry Foundation, Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority, JPMorgan Chase & Co., John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, Marc and Jeanne Malnati Family Foundation, Robert R. McCormick Foundation, Mutual of America Foundation, Partnership for Safe and Peaceful Communities, Polk Bros. Foundation, Pritzker Foundation, Telligen Community Initiative, The Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation


Heartland Alliance is the main organizer of this program (9).

Types of work

“During the first stage, participants were typically assigned to crews performing outdoor work (such as park cleanup) or other basic services (such as packing meals for food pantries). They received transportation to and from the worksite, as safety was a core challenge. Later stages offered participants a greater variety of jobs and more independence, potentially including subsidized placements with local employers (e.g., some participants eventually worked in a local vehicle seat factory),” (10).

Notable features

Shooting and homicide arrests, declined 65% . Because shootings are so costly, READI generated estimated social savings between $182,000 and $916,000 per participant. Participants referred by outreach workers—a prespecified subgroup—saw enormous declines in arrests and victimizations for shootings and homicides (79% and 43%, respectively) (11).


Barriers to participation; logistical barriers to participation such as housing instability, substance use disorders, and safety concerns about exposing themselves to certain people or places (Fagan and Wilkinson, 1998; Anderson, 1999) (12). The program faces safety issues, and participants face other serious challenges including episodic homelessness, family quarrels, financial difficulties, arrests and other legal troubles, parole commitments, physical and mental health struggles, and other issues that hinder participation (13).

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  1. “READI,” Heartland Alliance, accessed January 25, 2024,
  2. “READI,” Heartland Alliance
  3. Monica Bhatt et al., “Predicting and Preventing Gun Violence: An Experimental Evaluation of READI Chicago,” January 25, 2024,
  4. Bhatt et al., “Predicting and Preventing Gun Violence.”
  5. “Innovative READI Chicago Initiative Brings Hope amid Heartbreak of Gun Violence | University of Chicago News,” September 15, 2021,
  6. “Innovative READI Chicago Initiative Brings Hope amid Heartbreak of Gun Violence | University of Chicago News.”
  7. “Rapid Employment and Development Initiative Chicago,” University of Chicago Crime Lab, accessed January 25, 2024,
  8. “Rapid Employment and Development Initiative Chicago.”
  9. Steve Hendershot, “All Big Cities Have a Violence Problem. Chicago’s Is Different.,” Crain’s Chicago Business, October 14, 2022,
  10. “Rapid Employment and Development Initiative Chicago.”
  11. Bhatt et al., “Predicting and Preventing Gun Violence.”
  12. Bhatt et al., “Predicting and Preventing Gun Violence.”
  13. “Rapid Employment and Development Initiative Chicago.”